Housing Champion Focus: Representative Tarra Simmons from the 23rd District
When Representative Tarra Simmons fights for more equitable laws and social systems, she brings an abundant amount of lived experience.
Following a traumatic upbringing, Rep. Simmons spent 20 months in prison, then soon after release graduated from law school with honors. She took the Washington State Bar to the state Supreme Court when they couldn’t reconcile these identities - formerly incarcerated person and future attorney - and the court ruled unanimously in her favor. Rep. Simmons then applied her hard-earned Bar certification to legal services and advocacy for formerly incarcerated people. She recognized from personal experience with housing instability, economic insecurity, and lack of employment that the effects of incarceration extend well beyond time served in prison.
In November 2020, Rep. Simmons made history and headlines as the first person formerly convicted of a felony to be elected to the Washington State Legislature. Her platform included investing in housing affordability, to prevent the need for jails and prisons.
“Home is a magical word,” says Simmons, “especially if you don’t have one, or if you’re living somewhere that is inadequate, unhealthy, overpriced, or unsafe, which are unfortunately situations that too many of us are familiar with. One reason I ran for office was to do what I could to increase the supply of affordable housing in our state for formerly incarcerated individuals, for veterans, for people needing to leave abusive relationships, and really, for everyone. This is as basic a requirement as the air we breathe, and I applaud the work of the Housing Action Fund and all the allies who are working so hard on such a vital human need.”
As a representative, Simmons serves on the House Public Safety, Civil Rights & Judiciary, and Healthcare & Wellness committees. She made headlines again this month when the legislature passed her sponsored bill, HB 1078, which restores voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. Many of these previously silenced folks are Black and Indigenous, due to the criminal justice system’s disproportionate impact on people of color. More than 20,000 Washingtonians will now have a say in future elections!
Thank you to Rep. Simmons for believing in the potential of every person and for championing the change that will allow all Washingtonians to fulfill their potentials. We’re in awe of how you’ve embraced your own power and are applying it to advocate for marginalized communities.
For more information, visit Representative Simmon’s website.
With now less than 4 weeks left in the legislative session, the deadlines come quicker and the number of bills alive has dwindled, all as the budgets begin to take center stage. We are optimistic about the position of our key priorities, and it's also the time when they need a huge final push to bring them home!
ESHB 1236 (just cause protections) has been pulled from the Rules Committee to the Senate floor and awaits scheduling for a final vote. This Senate floor vote would be a historic win for tenants, so please keep up the advocacy! Meanwhile, on Thursday evening E2SSB 5160 (right to counsel) passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on party lines, meaning it now moves to Rules before getting a vote on the floor of the House. Special shoutout to several testifiers who signed up to speak in the hearing for this bill on Wednesday; the hearing took close to seven hours and many folks stayed on the whole time!
HB 1220 (affordable housing planning and anti-exclusionary zoning) was heard in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday as well, and this bill will need to pass out of the committee before the fiscal cutoff today, Friday April 2nd! Please be sure to contact your lawmakers about the importance of this bill.
Meanwhile, HB 1277 (rental assistance, eviction prevention and operations and maintenance for permanent supportive housing via a document recording fee increase) is also in Ways & Means with a hearing scheduled for Monday April 5th. Since this bill is necessary to implement the budget, it is not subject to the fiscal committee cutoff of this Friday, but this upcoming hearing will be critical to ensure the bill moves forward. Thanks to those who are testifying and signing in PRO!
The Operating and Capital budgets were released last week and each chamber is working to move their budget proposals forward. Both the House Capital Budget and Operating Budget have passed out of committee, and the Senate Operating and Capital Budgets have passed off the Senate floor. Overall, the House Operating Budget is an excellent, visionary even, allocating more than $1 billion to rental assistance and much more, although it did not fund SB 5160 (while the Senate version did). The Senate Capital Budget, in contrast, is the budget to beat in terms of high investments in the Housing Trust Fund ($205 million) and $90 million for rapid acquisition for properties for shelter, transitional housing and PSH. Here are the budgets to compare: Operating and Capitol.
Let's bring it home! We need a BIG PUSH for HB 1236, SB 5160, and deep capital investments in affordable homes.
We are facing a truly historic opportunity to pass strong homelessness prevention & eviction protection bills and to secure historic affordable housing & homelessness investments! With just four weeks left for the state legislative session, key eviction prevention bills are still alive. And state budget proposals were released that include historic appropriations for affordable housing and homelessness! This is all good news, but it is not an exaggeration to say that nothing is secured and all could be lost. There is intense pressure to not pass these bills and to reduce affordable housing and homelessness appropriations. But it has been shown time again that advocacy can move mountains. Now is the time for all housing and homelessness advocates to stand up and make sure your voice is heard. Please weigh in today.
This week we need an extra special focus on HB 1236 (just cause protections) and SB 5160 (right to counsel) to keep people in their homes and prevent a mass wave of evictions and homelessness. HB 1236 has been pulled to the Senate floor, which means a final floor vote could occur soon. It is critical that tenants are protected against arbitrary and retaliatory evictions. Without these protections, pandemic related rental assistance will not secure housing or prevent homelessness.
Meanwhile, SB 5160, designed to prevent evictions through expanded legal assistance and key protections for tenants, faces another hurdle in House Appropriations, and we must ensure that members of this key budget committee pass the bill out of committee by Friday’s (4/2) deadline.
As if these bills weren’t exciting enough, the Operating and Capital Budgets were released last week, and if we keep up the pressure we can win truly historic appropriations for affordable housing and homelessness. The Senate Capital budget is the high water mark, and we need to ask House budget writers to match the Senate’s investments.
Thank you for your ongoing advocacy!
Join us for our last two Housing and Homelessness provider Zoom calls!
Apr 9, 2021 @ 1:00 PM & Apr 23, 2021 @ 1:00 PM
The Housing Alliance has only two more affordable housing advocates legislative and COVID 19 updates!
These are calls are open to affordable housing, homelessness and tenants rights advocates during the 2021 legislative session.
SAVE THE DATE FOR BRING WASHINGTON HOME
We hope you'll join us on May 19 for Bring Washington Home, our annual advocacy celebration and fundraiser! The event will be virtual this year, making it easy to join from wherever you are. There is no cost to attend and everyone is welcome!
Wednesday, May 19
Our movement showed its strength and compassion in ways we never expected would be necessary before 2020. We have more to do, but much to celebrate!
Please mark your calendar now and join us on May 19. To find out how to serve as a virtual table captain or for information about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Itzchelb@wliha.org.